We’ve got the Sunday brunch blog back. I do this one before Sunday home games, and we’re able to get into a number of topics at a leisurely pace. So grab another mimosa and have at it.
The Cubs take on the Phillies this afternoon in the series finale. They’ll send swingman Carlos Villanueva against veteran A.J. Burnett. Villanueva relieved in two games at Pittsburgh and got the loss each time out. But he’s also a dying breed as the guy who can start and relieve, even within days of each other. I remember Terry Mulholland in 1998 as being one of the best at that.
One time, Terry told me that he wanted to start every fourth day, not every fifth day, and relieve in between. Old school all the way. Cubs manager Rick Renteria said he appreciates the effort from Villanueva.
The sun has returned to Wrigley Field. It’s cool and the wind is blowing in off the lake, but it’s been a much more tolerable morning and early afternoon here at the ballpark as the Cubs and Jeff Samardzija take on lefty Cliff Lee and the Phillies.
Someone asked Cubs manage Rick Renteria yesterday if he would shake up the lineup because the Cubs aren’t hitting. Actually, Renteria does that every day as he has gone with a different combo for each game. The Cubs have six left-handed hitters, six right-handed hitters and switch hitter Emilio Bonifacio on the roster.
Welcome to Opening Day at Wrigley Field as the Cubs take on Ryne Sandberg’s Phillies. It’s No. 101 in the history of this ballpark and the 99th for the Cubs, who moved in after the Federal League went out of business. The day is cloudy and cool, with the wind howling out. If there’s one consolation it’s that the wind is not coming in off the lake. But gusts could hit 40 mph or more today.
We’ll get to a few of the highlights of the pregame here on the blog, with much more in the paper tomorrow from several of us from the Daily Herald out here at the ballpark.
Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts spoke with reporters for a few minutes and said that seeking additional investors to help with the planned ballpark renovations is one option. That news was reported Thursday.
It's about 30 degrees colder today than it was for Monday's White Sox-Twins season opener, but the rain is expected to hold off until later so there will be baseball this afternoon on the South Side.
Some pregame notes:
-With right-hander Kevin Correia on the mound for Minnesota today, left-handed hitting Alejandro De Aza is back in left field for the second straight game and right-handed hitting Dayan Viciedo is back on the bench.
If this is going to be a platoon situation, De Aza is going to get the majority of the starts. Last season, the Sox played 124 games against right-handed starters and just 38 vs. left-handers.
Viciedo is taking his new role in stride, for now.
Joakim Noah dished out 120 assists in the month of March. The Bulls played a ton of games in March (16 in 31 days), but that's still an impressive average of 7.5.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, that is the most assists by a center in a single month since Wilt Chamberlain had 155 in March, 1968. That was the year Wilt decided he'd done enough scoring in his career, so he led the league in assists with 8.6.
Among all players, Noah finished tied for 7th in assists during March. Here's the list:
1. Rajon Rondo, Bos 11.1
2. Chris Paul, LAC 10.3
3. John Wall, Was 9.0
4. Ty Lawson, Den 8.8
5. Ricky Rubio, Min 8.6
6. Kendall Marshall, LAL 7.9
7. Joakim Noah, Bulls 7.5
(tie) Kemba Walker, Cha 7.5
It's sunny, 65 degrees (feels like about 110), the wind at U.S. Cellular Field is gusting out to left field and, in a little over an hour, the White Sox can officially the 99-loss 2013 season in the past.
While it doesn't look like the Sox are going to make the playoffs for the first time since 2008, at least they should be more interesting and easier to watch over the next six months.
We shall see.
Here are some Opening Day notes as White Sox ace Chris Sale prepares to face the Twins, who again stack up as one of the worst teams in baseball.
-Matt Lindstrom - not Nate Jones - opens the season as the Sox' closer.
“I just have confidence in him with what he's done in the past and what he did in spring training,” Ventura said. “He's the right guy to start us off."
PHOENIX _ Never let it be said that there isn’t competition for jobs in spring training. Sometimes it seems that way, but this year, the Cubs generated a few surprises, all based on competition. They announced the final spot on their roster today, and it went to Park Ridge resident Brian Schlitter.
Schlitter pitched for the Cubs in 2010, but elbow and shoulder injuries derailed his career, so much so that waiver claims on him by the Yankees and Phillies were voided. To me, Schlitter and John Baker making the team as the backup catcher are the two biggest surprise in camp.
Fred Hoiberg and Kevin Ollie never made the playoffs with the Bulls. But on a night when those two former Bulls squared off as coaches in the NCAA Tournament, the current Bulls clinched a playoff spot.
The Bulls turned in a lackluster performance Friday and lost to Portland 91-74 at the United Center. But when New York lost at Phoenix later in the night, a playoff berth became official.
By the way, Ollie's Connecticut squad beat Hoiberg and Iowa State in the East regional semis. Some might say Hoiberg was at a disadvantage having lost one of his top scorers last week to a broken foot. I say he had more than enough to win with.
MESA, Ariz. _ It’s Cubs-White Sox today at Cubs Park in the Cactus League finale for both teams. The White Sox will take off for Birmingham after the game, and the Cubs will head over to Phoenix to play the Diamondbacks at Chase Field Friday and Saturday.
There is more Cubs news to report. General manager Jed Hoyer told us the Cubs have finalized their position-player roster. Third baseman Mike Olt and outfielder Ryan Kalish have made the team. Outfielder Chris Coghlan and infielder Ryan Roberts were the final cuts.
Kalish is a nonroster man as is infielder Emilio Bonifacio, whose making the team was a foregone conclusion.
MESA, Ariz. _ Cubs manager Rick Renteria was talking up three backup-catcher possibilities this morning at Cubs Park. And then there were two. The looming Cubs roster crunch eased a bit today as the Cubs released backup catcher George Kottaras and saw utility infielder Donnie Murphy claimed off waivers by the Texas Rangers.
The Cubs also announced that John Baker had won the backup catcher's job over Eli Whiteside, who will be assigned to Class AAA Iowa.
“Those are two guys that have a tremendous amount of experience, are known for being very good receivers, blocking," said manager Rick Renteria.